A short story by Peter O’Neil
“How much further, Daddy?” Becca asked, her big blue eyes squinting against the low sunlight filtering through the road-side hedgerow. “I’m tired.”
“Nearly there, Baby Girl.” Will Hudson lifted his head to smile at his 6 year old daughter in the rear view mirror. Her smile back, minus a bottom front tooth, brought a grin to his face.
“Will?” His wife, Mandy, rustled the map that she had spread across her lap. “We should’ve been there by now. I think we should’ve turned right at the last junction. Sorry.” She bit her lip and gave her husband the puppy dog eyes.
Will laughed and smiled at her. “No worry, Mandy Pandy, we’ll have a look at it in a mo.”
“Sun’s going down.” Jeff piped up from the back. “Be dark soon.”
Will stretched his neck to see his 10 year old boy and give him googly eyes but Jeff was busy staring out of his window at the hedgerow. “Every road looks the same.” Jeff remarked.
“I know, Pal, I know.” Will replied. He checked his side mirrors. He’d fitted the Volvo Estate with the extended mirrors to see past the 4-Berth caravan they were towing and pulled in as far as possible to the side of the narrow country lane. “Humph!.” He chuffed. “Nothing’s getting past on this road, whether I pull in or not!” He leant over towards Mandy and she tapped the map with a pink varnished fingernail at the spot where she believed they were sitting.
“See there?” She moved her finger to the end of the thin black line. “It just ends.”
“Huh. Yeah” Will nodded. “So where did we go wrong?”
Mandy traced the line back. “Here, I think. About two miles back.”
“I remember it,” Will agreed. “No signposts or anything and this way looked more promising than the other bumpy looking track.”
“It did.” Mandy nodded her head, her auburn hair bobbing with the movement, “Sorry, Will.”
Will squeezed her knee through the map, “No worry, Mandy Pandy, it’s just a couple of miles. We just need a place to turn this baby around and we’ll be there in no time. Aint that so, Baby girl?” He looked in the rear-view again but little Becca had dozed off with her chin on her chest.
He steered the car along the narrow, winding, hedge-flanked road as the sun sank lower and the deep orange of the ski gradually yielded to the darkening blue.
“There’s a spot!” Jeff called out suddenly.
“What? Where, pal?” Will searched in his side mirrors.
“Just back a bit.” Jeff pressed his face to the window. “It’s grown over, but there’s a lane or something. I’m sure there is.”
“I can’t see a thing in these mirrors.” Will said, shaking his head.”how did it get dark so quick?” He switched on the headlights and shifted the Volvo into reverse. Using the wide mirrors he began backing up slowly but the reversing lights on the caravan weren’t much help.
“Want me to guide you back, Dad?” jeff asked, eager to help.
“No thanks, pal. I wouldn’t want to reverse over you in the dark.” Will replied with a grin.
Jeff laughed. “Aw dad””
Will smiled over his shoulder at jeff and was struck by how much his son had grown to look like Mandy. Same auburn hair, same blue eyes, same smile too. |He had Will’s nose though. There was no mistaking the Hudson schnozzle! He put the car into neutral and pulled up the handbrake. “I’ll go take a look.”
“Mind the traffic, Dear!” Mandy chuckled.
“No worry, Mandy Pandy.” He called back.
A few moments later he was back behind the wheel. “Well spotted, pal!” He beamed. “It’s really well hidden back there!”
Mandy swivelled in her seat. “Way to go, Eagle-eye Jeff!” She held up her palm. “High-five me, Eagle-eye!”
Jeff cringed. “Aw, mum!”
“Don’t leave me hanging!” Mandy protested.
Jeff rolled his eyes then grinned and high-fived her.
The big Volvo eased slowly backwards, the caravan’s back end blindly leading the way. Will used the side mirrors as much as he could to guide them towards the overgrown mouth of the concealed entrance. Ferns and brambles hid it at ground level and the lower branches of the Hazel trees on either side formed a canopy over it.
One of the caravan’s wheels bumped through a large pot- hole and threw the caravan slightly off course. Will turned the steering wheel a little too sharply in reaction, over-compensating and sending the back of the caravan towards the left side of the entrance. There was a loud thus as Will hit the brakes. He put the Volvo into 1st gear and pulled slowly forward, straightening out the car and it’s trailer.
“Good job you weren’t guiding me back, pal!” Will smiled.
“Yeah, I’d be roadkill!” Jeff laughed.
“Jeff!” his mother gasped.
“Roadkill!” Will laughed and gave Jeff the googly eyes that he’s missed earlier.
“I’ll take a look!” Jeff was out of the car before his parent’s could object and leapt along the side of the caravan. Will watched in the gloom of the off-side mirror as Jeff bent over and picked up what looked like a piece of wood from the undergrowth. It was a rotted, old, wooden sign with faded lettering that read:
“PRIVATE ROAD- NO TURNING!”
Mandy and Will laughed, and Becca stirred, sat up and looked blearily at her brother holding up the sign. Jeff propped the sign against the hedgerow and got back into the car, wiping his hands on his jeans.
Becca wrinkled her nose. “Smelly!” She sniffed.
“Thanks, Becca! Jeff said, feigning offence.
Will engaged reverse gear again and slowly manoeuvred the caravan into the hidden opening. Hazel branches scraped against the roof and sides of the caravan as it bumped through the undergrowth and pushed against the darkness beyond.
“Nearly there!” Will announced. “Just a little…” The caravan was through the entrance and Will was just swinging the steering wheel the other way when the caravan lurched. “Come on, old girl!” Will shoved the gear stick into first. “Let’s get back on the road!”
The caravan rocked, and the Volvo’s rear wheels spun as Will stepped on the accelerator. Neither car nor van moved forward. He tried again, more gas this time, pumping the pedal.
“Stuck.” Said Will glumly.
“No shit, Sherlock!” Mandy replied with a raise of the eyebrows.
Becca giggled. “No shit, Sherlop!” she mimicked.
Jeff choked with surprise.
“Becca!” Mandy stared in mock horror.
“Better take a look.” Will said, unclipping his seatbelt.
“No sock, Shitlip!” Becca squealed in hysterics and Jeff and Mandy fought back the tears and held their sides as Will, shaking his head, disappeared behind the caravan.
“You’re too funny! Jeff blurted through the laughter.
“No tits, Shitpot!” Becca sputtered weakly, her face and her little body shaking with the giggles.
“OK, enough, please!” Mandy cried. “Enough.”
“NO FUCKING TURNING, COCKSUCKER!” Becca growled in a deep, hoarse, rasping voice. Mandy and Jeff stared at her, dumbstruck. Becca blinked in bewilderment, tears filled her big blue eyes and then the floodgates opened, and she was bawling with fright and confusion.
Mandy reached back and pulled Becca between the two front seats and onto her lap. She wrapped her arms tightly around her, rocked her and shushed her. Jeff pulled his knees up to his chin, the musty, rotten smell on his jeans hitting his nostrils as he stared at the sign propped in the hedgerow, lit now by the headlights.
The caravan began to rock behind them, causing the car to rock slightly too. The inappropriate thought came to Mandy, “If the van’s a-rockin’ don’t come knockin’!” She shook it away.
“What’s daddy doing?” Becca asked, tear-filled eyes looking up at her mother.
“Daddy’s fixing the caravan, Becca honey.”
“I want to go home.”
“He won’t be long, Becca honey. Then we’ll have a lovely holiday, hmmm?” She stroked Becca’s hair and kissed her furrowed brow just as the rocking stopped. “there!” she said. “Daddy’s fixed it” They waited. Jeff sat forward, leaning against his mother’s seat, ready to welcome his father with some quip or other. Will, however, did not reappear.
“Mum?” Jeff whispered, “Shall I go and see what daddy’s doing?”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Jeff honey.” Mandy replied.
“Maybe he needs help, or maybe he hurt himself.” Jeff suggested.
Mandy mulled it over, biting her bottom lip, then nodded. “OK but be quick.” Jeff slid across the back seat, and slipped out of the rear, driver’s side door, slamming it behind him. He peered back through the window, gave his mother the thumbs-up and pulled a kooky face at his sister. Becca giggled and waved, then Jeff moved nervously off towards the caravan and the darkness enveloping it.
With Becca on her lap, Mandy couldn’t follow Jeff’s progress via the side mirror for long and he was soon out of sight. “Come on, come on, come on.” She thought as she stroked becca’s head.
Minutes that seemed like hours passed and Mandy began to suspect that the two ‘men’ might be playing about. She wound down her window and called out, a little surprised that the air was cold enough for her to see her breath. “Come on guys! Becca’s tired and |I’m starving.” With a little shudder, Mandy quickly shut the window.
“Where’s daddy and Jiffy?” Becca asked, yawning.
“Playing silly beggars.” Mandy replied with a frown. “Mummy’s going to fetch them, ok?”
“No, mummy!” Becca flung her arms around her mother’s neck. “Don’t go!”
“I’ll only be a minute.” Mandy insisted, prising Becca’s fingers apart. “You sit in daddy’s seat. OK? But don’t touch anything.” Mandy took the keys from the ignition as Becca jumped into the driver’s seat and grabbed the steering wheel with both hands.
“Ten to two!” she declared proudly.
Mandy smiled. “That’s right, Becca Honey. Good girl! Remember now, don’t touch anything.”
“OK Mummy!” Becca bounced excitedly, pulling the steering wheel back and forth. Mandy pushed her door softly shut and slipped away along the hedgerow.
She had barely gone when Jeff jumped into the back seat behind Becca. “Mum,” he panted, “I can’t find D…” He stopped and looked blankly at his mother’s empty seat.
“Beep! Beep! Outa way! “Becca shouted, bouncing in front of Jeff.
“Becca, where’s Mum?” Jeff asked.
“Beep! Beep!” Becca replied.
“Becca!” Jeff shouted. “Where’s Mum?”
“Playing silly Beggars!” Becca giggled.
Then the bouncing began. Not Becca’s playful bouncing but the whole caravan. It was being lifted and dropped, lifted and dropped and the Volvo’s rear bucked as the caravan tugged against the crowbar.
Jeff clambered over the back seat into the large luggage space behind, scrabbling over suitcases to look out of the rear window.
Becca was still now, staring into the side mirror, her bottom lip trembling. Jeff was gaping up at the large, front window of the caravan. “Mum! Dad!” He shouted. Their faces were barely visible in the darkness, but Jeff could see the shock etched upon them.
In the side mirror, Becca watched the reflection of the caravan rising up and crashing down and, beyond it, the black hole of the entrance bordered by thrashing branches and shivering hedgerows and something else, something not right.
Jeff banged a fist against the back window. “Mum! Dad! Get out of there!” His parent’s expressions did not flicker nor did their eyes seem to see him, as if the horror was frozen on their faces.
Teeth! Becca realised. She could see teeth beyond the branches. Long, black, pointy, shiny teeth. Rows of them! The branches were dragging the caravan in and the teeth…she screamed: “It’s eating the van, Jiffy! It’s eating the van!”
Jeff tore his eyes away from the tableau in the window and turned to his little sister. “We gotta get out!” He yelled, kicking at the suitcases as he dived over into the back seat. “get out and run, Becca!”
“I’m scared, Jiffy!”
“Get out, Becca!” he urged as he shoved the back door open.
Becca yanked on the handle and kicked the door with both feet. Jeff grabbed her hand and she slid out into the ferns and brambles. The caravan rose again. There was a sound of screeching, tortured metal, of scraping and crunching as a thousand black, razor-sharp fangs munched through the thin structure. Windows exploded outwards and Will and Mandy stood there, framed and frozen in terror.
“Mummy! Daddy!” Becca screamed.
Jeff tugged her away. “Run, Becca, run!”
“Jiffy!” Becca shrieked, high- pitched and night-piercing. Tendrils of brambles were wrapped around her ankles, thorns biting into her skin. Jeff held onto her hands as her feet left the ground, the brambles pulling her towards the awful black maw.
“I got you, Becca!” Jeff pulled with all his strength. “I got you!”
A hazel branch whipped from above them and cracked viciously across Jeff’s arms. Becca was yanked from his grasp and dragged screaming past the Volvo.
“Becca!” Jeff hollered.
“Jiffy!” Becca screamed. “Jiffy!”
“Becca!” A hand was on her shoulder. Her scream tailed off as she opened her eyes to see Jeff. Her gaze shifted past him and out of the side window, settling on a rotted, old, wooden sign that had been propped up in the hedgerow. “PRIVATE ROAD-NO TURNING!”
Becca leaned forward and tapped her daddy on the shoulder.
“What is it, baby Girl?”
Becca opened her mouth and screamed:
“NO FUCKING TURNING, COCKSUCKER!”